Ever since the Roman church fixed Christmas on December 25 (440AD) there have been a vast array of opinions about whether or not we Christians should in fact be celebrating Christ’s birth in this way. Some people wholeheartedly support it and go all out in their celebrations. Others try to avoid it, and mock or despise those who do celebrate Christ’s birth at the time of an old Pagan Sun-god festival. Some families I know refuse to partake in the gift giving of the day (with much sadness for their children).
In 1647 Christmas was abolished in Britain by Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan parliament. December 25 was a working day from 1644 to 1656. There were riots across the country. Christmas church services were broken up by armed soldiers. Shopkeepers came off the worst: if they closed then soldiers forced them to open; if they opened, the rioters forced them to close! Christmas decorations in London were torn down and burned by the mayor. Christmas puddings were banned.
In America the Puritan leaders followed suit and banned Christmas in some states (1659). A New England state law said: “Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas shall pay 5 shillings as a fine.” And you could buy a lot for 5 shillings! The Christmas ban was dropped in 1681 but it wasn’t until 1836 that Alabama said 25 December was to be a holiday, then everyone in the USA copied them. By then people in Victorian Britain had lost interest in Christmas, but when Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 they decided Christmas was a wonderful idea.
For me Christmas has always been a wonderful time of year, full of family fun and traditions – but does that justify the celebration? While the commercialism is distracting (and the concept of an jolly Father figure who rewards us according to merit is in total opposition to the forgiveness and grace found in Jesus) I do think there is a case for celebrating wholeheartedly as Christians.
And it all comes down to remembering.
Throughout the history of God’s redemptive intervention into our fallen world, He has told us to keep remembering what he has done. It was on the basis of the covenant promises given to Abraham that Israel was rescued from slavery (to Egypt and to sin) through Moses. The Passover Lamb which saved them from death (well, God saved them!) was so important to remember that a whole special menu plan was devised. As people ate they would remember, and teach their children to remember what God had done. When the new generation of Israel emerged from the wilderness wanderings (their parents caused), Moses spent a whole book (Deuteronomy) explaining how important it was to remember and obey all the laws God had given, to guide and direct their new lives in the Promised Land. They were to live lives worthy of their God and show the world what he had done for them. He rescued them into a covenant relationship, for the glory of His Name.
So why wouldn’t we remember the one event which reminds us of the time God stepped into human history Himself. This is when the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, to save us! While the Cross is the thing that saves us, we must remember the beginning of that journey to the Cross: Christ born as a helpless baby, fully God and fully man, in such lowly circumstances. He was born, destined to be despised and rejected, for our sake.
What a great opportunity we have at Christmas time, when even non-Christians are willing to celebrate the birth of a Saviour they do not know! They are remembering, even though they don’t fully understand. We have the full story to share – to explain to them what they are really celebrating! Let’s open the dialogue at every opportunity, even in those long line-ups at the checkout! Let’s show them how to remember in thankfulness and awe the Incarnation of God’s son, sent to save.
May the glory go to our great God this Christmas – as we remember!
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